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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Is Ensenada, Baja CA, Mexico A Suitable Retirement Destination For You?

Welcome!  Today's post is about retirement living in Ensenada, Mexico.  I recently returned from a 3 day family vacation in Ensenada.  Earlier this summer, my wife and I had entertained the idea of going to Rosarito, Mexico for a short vacation with our kids.  We applied for Passport Cards (ID's that serve like passports when crossing the Mexican and Canadian border by vehicle) and even booked a place using Airbnb.com.  But we canceled the booking in the end and instead used the money to place our kids in a Girls and Boys Club weeklong camp.  It gave us a much needed respite from parenting duties from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for five days!


View from the top of the cliff: Rancho Packard

Out of the blue I commented on a friend's post on Facebook, namely, that when I visit Ensenada I'd let him know so we could hook up.  He's a retired Chicano living there with his Mexican wife and kids.  Much to my surprise, my friend offered to let my family use his cliffside house (he rents another house in a neighborhood called, Coronel Estaban Cantu) overlooking the Pacific free of charge!  So with my wife's encouragement, I contacted him and asked if his cliffside house was available July 23rd to July 26.  It was and we had a week to plan our Mexico adventure.  It was an opportunity we couldn't pass up!  Now onto some financial details.


View from the master bedroom

Total Vacation Cost:  $274

I left Oceanside, CA this past Monday with $280 in my wallet and a full tank of gas.  I spent an initial $54 to insure (full coverage, including vehicle theft) our Lexus RX 350 using Bajabound.com for three days.  Ensenada is about 68 miles from the border, and my friend's house is in South Ensenada so we were over the 70 mile coverage provided by Allstate.  Getting Mexican insurance in addition to your own American policy to cover liability is not a bad idea even closer to the border.  It's cheap and provides peace of mind.  Bajabound.com is a great site and very easy to get in and out with exactly what you need.


Beautiful Baja Cove Beach

In San Ysidro, CA, prior to crossing the border, I swapped $180 into Mexican pesos.  The exchange rate I got was 18.55 pesos for $1.  I recommend you always have Mexican currency on hand.  Why?  While most places near the border and indeed, even in the whole of Mexico, take the dollar, vendors and businesses will give you a sub-market exchange rate inland.  It's an easy ride to the coast once you cross the border.  You literally run parallel to the border wall until you reach the Tijuana, MX playas (beaches).  Take the scenic road.  It's a toll road, but you'll save a ton of time.  Currently, the toll fare is $2 or 35 pesos.  So you'll save about 11 cents each time if you use Mexican currency.  There are three toll booths you'll need to stop at before reaching Ensenada.


The courtyard patio at my friend's house

We used a little over a quarter of a tank of gas to get to Ensenada.  Our driving time from Oceanside to Ensenada was two hours.  But...getting to my friend's cliff house in Rancho Packard, a small enclave about 1 mile from the famous tourist destination, La Bufadora, took another hour.  We had to drive through central Ensenada and make our way south on Avenida Reforma until turning onto highway 23, running up the peninsula.


Selfie at Junior's Burgers

Though traffic sucked, with multiple lights stopping our progress here and there, it did give us a chance to get a great look at the shops, restaurants, and services Ensenada has to offer.  We saw American chains like Subway, McDonald's, Sam's Club, Costco, Walmart, 7-11, Starbucks, Applebee's, and the Home Depot, along with their Mexican counterparts like Calimax (supermarket), Oxxo (convenience store), and Elektra (like a Bestbuy).  Of course there were a multitude of privately owned Mexican eateries and shops.


The kids playing at Baja Cove Beach

Driving in Mexico is not that different than driving in the U.S.  The stop signs are the same except they say, "Alto."  The street light colors are also the same, but even better, when green is about to turn to yellow, it starts to flicker, warning you.  The main difference is merging.  In Mexico, many streets and strip mall parking zones are unpaved.  So you have to merge and get off with purpose onto and off the main road, and you don't always have the best traction.  Expect your car to be dirty, by the way.  A film of dust covered our car.


At the famous blowhole: La Bufadora!

Ensenada Living

Ensenada has everything an American needs and it usually is a whole lot cheaper.  We went grocery shopping at a Calimax a couple hours after we arrived.  We spent an equivalent of $58 in groceries.  The same goods would have probably cost over $80 in the U.S.  Get plenty of bottled water unless you want Moctezuma's revenge, a.k.a. chorro, a.k.a., the runs.  Remember that Mexicans (and ex-pats) have an immunity to the bacteria responsible for infection that causes a bout of diarrhea.  You don't!  So don't drink the water, freeze water into ice cubes, wet your toothbrush, etc.  Use bottled water to wash your vegetables.  Washing dishes is okay since you're most likely going to use an antibacterial dish detergent.  Showering and bathing is also okay so long as you don't drink the running water!  If you retire in Mexico, just be prepared to get this infection once.  You'll be fine afterward.


Getting tacos!

As I see it, there is no point to leaving the U.S. to live in Mexico if you won't have a front row, cliffside house overlooking the Pacific, or a beach house with sand in front of you.  Unless you are poor and have absolutely no way of retiring in the U.S., don't buy a home or a lot to build on that's far removed from water.  A ranch?  Too much work in it for me.  A cottage in the Sierra?  Nah!  You can rent or own a cabin here in the U.S.  It's all about the view.  My friend's house sits in prime real estate position with an incredible view.  To his right, you can see the strand of Ensenada known as La Jolla, and Baja Cove beach.  We spent a day at Baja Cove and I swear to you it was like spending a day at a North County San Diego beach.  Only inconvenience was there not being a public bathroom.


How does 6 tamales for $5 sound?

My friend pays $75 to rent the land under his house which he values at about $150-180K.  It's a 3 bedroom, two bath, with incredible style.  This arrangement works for him.  The landowner collects his $75 monthly, but he has no rights to the house.  If my friend wants to sell, he can, provided the buyer understands he leases the land.  Sort of like trailer home living where you pay rent on your space.  There are no property taxes!  His house has wi-fi, and Dish TV.  The Internet is okay.  I was able to get on all my social media and regular online sites.  I didn't ask him about his Internet speed though I'm sure Mexico's hasn't caught up yet to the U.S.


Jessica takes a closer look.  Directly in front of the house is this view!

Rancho Packard and Baja Cove Beach are two communities where many American ex-pats live or vacation in.  In fact, while at Rancho Packard, I spoke English with three different neighbors I met.  It's a gated community but the gate keeper sits in a shack and simply opens the door for entering and outgoing vehicles.  He doesn't even leave his shack!  He's tied a rope to the gate and pulls on it each time.  LOL!!  But you don't need security.  We left windows open every time we left and nothing was ever stolen.  You need clearance to get in, however.  You must name who your host is, and hopefully your host has informed the gatekeeper that you are coming.  Once your car is approved for entry, the gate opens and closes without further issues when leaving or coming in.

Rancho Packard street on my morning run

My friend said there are burglaries at Baja Cove Beach, where thieves break entry and steal electronics, jewelry, etc., but not the murdering type of criminal.  Neighbors get together and hire security to look after a group of homes.  If you can afford it, you can hire your own security!  It's really the same as in the U.S.  If you're paranoid, you can live in a more secure Baja community like Bajamar, about 15 minutes north of Ensenada.  This is a bubble to me.  Not real Mexico.


Inside look of my friend's house

We went out to dinner twice.  At La Poblana in a community called, Maneadora, we get some insanely delicious tacos.  It's outside eating, with flies flying around you and a noisy main road, but the tacos are the best in town.  We paid like $25 for 12 tacos and 3 drinks.  If you want a clean, American style restaurant, try Junior's Burgers in Ejido Cantu.  They got both Mexican and American food, and a bar.  The food was delicious and we only payed $28 for four full meals!  There were two tables occupied when we arrived, all older Americans.  The view of the estuary is amazing.  On our last night there, we drove to King Pizza in Maneadero and ordered a large.  It was less than $10 and it tasted great.  We also bought ice cream for desert at a nearby neveria.  We took a pint and half home for $8.


One of the bathrooms

Ensenada does have a hospital, and several clinics.  Plus there are many doctors who have a practice.  Of course there are pharmacies galore.  There are many gyms in Ensenada so that will help you stay in shape.  Driving there and back home will not be as fast perhaps as in the states, but hey...you'll make up for it with a super cheap membership.  How about the health benefits of drinking beer and wine?  Well, much to my surprise I found craft beer sold at the Calimax.  I stocked up for those three nights.  The wines there are also great.  Wine country, the Guadalupe Valley, is a short drive away.  Next time I go to Ensenada I'll have to visit several wineries.


Master bath

Unlike Rosarito, Ensenada is a true Mexican city.  Yes, there are many American stores there, but the feel is slow paced and the people are from all walks of life.  You will see third world living with patches of affluence.  Ensenada has multiple universities, and is also an agricultural center that has temporary workers that come in from other parts of Baja, and continental Mexico.  If you're going to visit, stay downtown for walking access to everything you need, or rent a beach house.  As far as retiring there is concerned, you wouldn't be the first American there and you won't be the last.  If I were to give it some scores, they'd be these: (1 = Bad, 10 = Great)


1) Convenience: 7
2) Affordability: 9
3) Safety: 7 (never felt unsafe...of course, I'm Mexican and speak Mexican Spanish...this helps a lot).  Don't look like a wealthy American and you should be fine.
4) Overall Score: 7.7

We enjoyed our Mexican vacation very much.  The only downside was crossing the border.  We spent 2.5 hours in the car waiting to get to the ICE agent at the booth.  There are any vendors at the border so save some pesos prior to leaving.  You can buy souvenirs, food, or even pay for a visit to the bathroom!  If you want to help the poor people there, donate your coins or small bills.

We will surely revisit Ensenada and our friend in the future.  If you take a cruise there, get off the boat and have a look around.  This city has lots of charm.  Until next time!     
          

Monday, June 25, 2018

Review of MyHeritage And Ancestry DNA Products

Just how proud are you of your heritage?  If you're like most Americans, probably very proud, especially if you're able to cite with some degree of certainty where in the world your ethnicity is rooted.  The United States is less than 300 years-old, a mere speck in time, and unless you are 100% Native American, you most likely have ethnic roots outside of the two American continents.  Knowing that your ancestors came from somewhere else makes it almost compulsory to find out from where.

If it were up to me, I'd make DNA testing for heritage absolutely free for parents of newborns.  This way parents would have the option of educating their children about their ethnic heritage along with respect for all cultures and people as early as elementary.  Would it end the disease that is racism in the U.S.?  Probably not.  But it would help us all realize our origins aren't tied to any one nation or country, but rather to regions around the world.  For a great example of being responsibly conscious of both country and ethnic origin, let's take my case.  Before I share my ethnic results, I will speak on the experience of taking two "DNA tests" from vendors, MyHeritage and Ancestry.

Since this site is all about money, wealth, and success, let's start with costs.

Ancestry DNA test kit
Total: $78.95.  I bought it while on sale for Father's Day.

MyHeritage DNA test kit
Total: $81.  I bought it also on sale prior to their big Father's Day sale.  I could've saved another ten bucks if I'd known!

If you are interested in taking a DNA test to learn about your ethnic background, tests from the 5 Best DNA Kits are always on sale.  You just have to be patient.  Go back to the websites during Holidays to find better deals.

Now let's talk about the process from the time you get your kit in the mail until you get your results online.

Ancestry DNA Process


Your kit includes very easy to follow instructions, a saliva receptacle, screw on vial with DNA preservation solution, small napkin for wiping, return mail box (postage paid), and your activation information for claiming your results.  Collecting your DNA sample by spitting into a vial may gross some of you out, but I'm used to spitting as an athlete.  Overall, the entire process of collecting your sample and signing up online takes 15 minutes or less.



MyHeritage DNA Process


Similar to Ancestry's kit you get a small box but the contents are more "scientific."  You get two small vials with screw tops and each contains DNA preservation solution.  You also get two swabs for collecting DNA by rubbing the inside of your cheeks for like 30 seconds.  You have to snap break the swabs so they fit inside the vials, then screw on the tops and send the samples back in the return envelope.

As a science teacher, I enjoyed the MyHeritage DNA sample collection process much more, but I can see how some people may prefer Ancestry's more streamlined approach.

The Wait...

While waiting for your results, both Ancestry and MyHeritage DNA do a great job of keeping you in the loop and emotionally vested.  First, they email you once your kit is received, eliminating potential fears and anxiety about your DNA being out there for anyone to intercept and use it to clone you.  Ha!  Seriously though, some people do worry about their DNA being used without their consent.  Relax, these two companies keep your results private.  You have to opt in to share your profile with others and for matching with others (search for relatives).  You get at least one more email from both companies letting you know your results are almost in.  MyHeritage sends you information in their email about how DNA is analyzed so if you're into the science, this will make your wait slightly better.

Time...

I was pleasantly surprised by both companies when they informed me of my results being available in less than 4 weeks.  They both claim results can take between 4-6 weeks depending on how busy they are.   


Online Platforms

Both online platforms are intuitive.  You can set-up your profile as in depth as you like.  You can for example, enter the names and relationships of your relatives to build a family tree on either site.  Both sites offer information on the ethnic groups you get as being part of your genetic and geographic match, but they don't use the same nomenclature obviously.  For example, at MyHeritage, if you are a person of Latin-American descent, you may get a percentage of your DNA coming from "Central America," which to them is the region from Mexico all the way to Colombia and Venezuela, i.e., northern South America.  Meanwhile, at Ancestry, because they test many more geographic regions (350+ versus only 42 for MyHeritage) your Latin-American ethnicity will be more pinpointed to a specific place in Mexico, let's say.  So if you can only afford one test, and if you have ethnic roots in Mexico, go with Ancestry.

Both platforms also provide a world map and circle the regions where your DNA comes from, color coded.  It's a cool feature to see multiple places around the world circled for your profile and probably not as cool if your DNA is only from one or two places on Earth.  Ancestry's platform provides an additional feature, a timeline of the history of your DNA back to the 1700's.  At least this was my case.  Autosomal tests aren't very accurate beyond 5 or six generations so there's really no way anyone can tell you with 100% certainty how your DNA has moved in time.  We all started in Africa, but after that...who knows where your DNA went.

Sample of Results

I was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and thanks to the Mormon archiving of Catholic church records, I was able to trace my paternal line (the Gomez's) back to a Spaniard (Joseph Dionicio Gomez Parra) born in 1752 in San Bartolome, Chihuahua.  This is of course a very myopic view of my DNA.  It doesn't account for all of the women and their lines.  Not to mention, the 1700s were just around the corner in terms of time.  So am I 100% Chihuahuan, Mexican?  Of course not!

MyHeritage DNA says I'm...



Ancestry DNA says I'm...(only showing one of two pics)


For a better look at my ethnic DNA results, I created a table:

MyHeritage DNA ResultsVs.Ancestry DNA Results
By ContinentBy Continent
Central American (Mex)53.40%Native American (Mex)33%
European36.50%European54-55%
African9.30%African6-7%
Asian0.80%Middle Eastern5%
East Asian<1%
By EthnicityBy Ethnicity
Mexican53.40%N.A. Chihuahua/Dur.33%
Iberian12.60%English/Scottish/Wales16%
Scandinavian12.10%Italian/Greek16%
Ashkenazi Jewish8.10%Iberian11%
North African6.70%Ireland/Scotland/Wales5%
Italian3.70%Middle East5%
Nigerian2.60%European Jewish3%
Eskimo/Inuit0.80%Northern African3%
Total100%Senegalese2%
Eastern European2%
Nigerian<1%
Cameroon/Congolese<1%
Scandinavian<1%
Western European<1%
East Asian<1%
Total100%


 After analyzing both sets of data, it's clear that I'm North-American, European, and African if we look at it from the continental perspective.  Ethnically, I'm Mexican, because Mexicans for the most part are a mixture of Native American, European (including European Jewish in many instances), and African.

We (Mexicans) may differ as a people in our percent of these three roots, but most of us have them.  For most of its history, Mexico has kept the African influence in Mexico under wraps, not recognizing the many Afro-Mexicans in the country (descendants of slaves).  In 2020, Mexico will finally add this ethnic group as an item in its census, acknowledging politically finally our third ethnic root.

I was hoping for more consistency between both tests but there wasn't a one-to-one match as I expected.  MyHeritage gave me a high percentage of Scandinavian descent (12%) while my Ancestry results showed very little Scandinavian descent (<1%) and identified British in me.  Who knew?  Historically, there were Vikings in the British isles so maybe there is a connection there somehow.

Conclusion

This was an interesting experience and I recommend everyone give it a shot.  One test is okay, but two are better so you can compare.  I will be looking to triangulate my results sometime in the near future by taking a third test.  23andMe will be the test I go with.  Sorry I can't tell you which one of the top five tests to choose.  They all have their pros and cons.  Thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

What's The Most Important Thing To Consider When Investing In Cryptocurrency?

Investing in cryptocurrency used to be a whole lot less complicated.  That's because in its infancy, there were just a few cryptocurrency to buy.  There was the original crypto, Bitcoin, of course, and Namecoin and Litecoin, emerging afterward in 2011.  Someone looking to get in on the ground floor of a new altcoin only needed to do research on a handful of non-Bitcoin options.  As of April 2018, there are over 1600 cryptocurrencies!  Here is a list of all the current available cryptocurrency ranked in order of market capitalization.  So go ahead...I dare you to try to discover the next Bitcoin.

Image result for ethereum



Buying Bitcoin simply because it's at number one on the aforementioned list is foolish.  As a digital currency, Bitcoin is the most widely accepted.  They're not making any more of it, meaning, its "circulating supply" is finite, giving Bitcoin an allure to ownership.  Buying fractions of a Bitcoin at a time, if you can't afford a whole Bitcoin (current price, $6,474), may seem like a good alternative, but each time you do so you're also paying for transaction fees.  And you still don't know what the market will do.  One of the many concerns of digital currency investors is the high volatility of the cryptocurrency market.

Putting price aside, how should you go about sizing up a crypto as an investment?  What are the most important things to consider?  These are the questions I'll try answering for you next.


Blockchain Is To Crypto As Location Is To Real Estate

You've heard the real estate addage, "Location, Location, Location," I'm sure plenty of times.  For example, a few months ago I saw a story about a burned up house selling for $900K.  The house happened to be in one of San Jose's most sought after neighborhoods, Willow Glenn.  I know the area quite well, having grown up in Central-East San Jose.  So it didn't surprise me.  The buyer is paying for the land obviously.  How does this relate to investing in cryptocurrency, you may be thinking.  Well, when you look at a particular coin to buy, you must also do your homework on the underlying blockchain technology it comes with.  The blockchaing technology is like the location in real estate.

Image result for ethereum's blockchain motley fool



Bitcoin's blockchain technology isn't that great.  For example, though someone buying things with Bitcoin can count on a ledger that is decentralized (some anonymity) and there not being a middle man, like a bank, to suck up additional transaction fees, there may be a waiting time before your purchase is cleared by miners.  Bitcoin's network only has the ability to process three measly transactions per second!  Compare this to Visa and Mastercard which can process thousands of transactions per second.  So it's clear here that Bitcoin's blockchain technology can never serve as a better replacement for the current payment processing networks for vendors.

Now take the case of Ethereum, ranked number two in terms of market cap in the crypto world.  Ethereum's blockchain went beyond solving some of the problems posed by traditional currency.  Ethereum's blockchain can also provide businesses with smart contract protocols, meaning, businesses can more easily verify or even enforce the negotiation of a contract.  Financial firms are thinking about applying Ethereum in the futures (exchange) market...think all the stuff that goes on before the stock market opens.  That's an application that makes Ethereum's blockchain clearly more useful than Bitcoin's.  Still, Bitcoin is winning the price war, but in my view only because it was first out of the gate.

Another example of a blockchain with interesting application is that of Ripple's.  If Bitcoin is the tortoise in terms of transactions per second, then Ripple is the hare.  Ripple's blockchain tech is capable of processing 1,500 transactions per second!  That's still well below the speed of traditional financial institutions like Visa, but Ripple has an ace under its sleeve: transaction costs are only a fraction of a penny.  This can woo banks looking to offer customers lower fees for their business.

Cryptocurrency Is Still Evolving

By now you can see that what makes a particular cryptocurrency a more worthy investment is its blockchain.  Even though Ethereum and Ripple's blockchain technology both have real-world application, they're still not better than what's out there already!  Do you remember when cell phones came out.  For a long time you didn't have to upgrade.  Most old phones were capable of doing what new versions of more expensive phones could do, namely, call and text someone.  Not until the "Smart Phone" came out were people willing to pay up to replace their old models.

The same can be said with businesses and their interest in blockchain technology.  When cryptocurrency blockchain technology is finally better, more cost effective, etc., for a company to utilize versus what they already have in place, the floodgates will open.  Ripple claims its transaction speed can be faster and capable of handling more transactions per second.  Great!  But it still remains to be seen.  In the meanwhile, you may consider either Ehtreum or Ripple as intriguing investments, certainly more so than Bitcoin.

So now as you research from the multiple cryptocurrency that is available and that which is not yet gone through an ICO (Initial Coin Offering), remember the importance of the underlying blockchain.  Ask yourself: 

1)  What blockchain features does cryptocurrency X have that may have non-currency application for companies and business?

2)  How long before these features are able to replace existing business technology or processes?

3)  What are the threats to or weaknesses of the blockchain technology of cryptocurrency X?


There you have it.  Hopefully this article has served to help you how to better inform yourself about a potential cryptocurrency investment.  Thanks for reading!

*Disclosure: I do NOT own any of the cryptocurrency mentioned in this post.  Not yet at least... 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Debt Solutions-Which One Is Right For You?

The debt crisis in the UK (just like in the U.S.) is at an all-time high, and with the average person at around £8000 in debt (not including mortgages), it's practically an epidemic. Did you know?...

As many as 30 percent of children are living in poverty!

It's a sad, but true statistic. And, when you're in debt, it can be hard to know where to turn. With a plethora of different companies promising to "change your life" by eliminating your debts, you're left stuck and confused about who you can trust. So, what steps can you take to get out of this mess?

Check out these debt solutions and options for who you can turn to for trusted help and advice with your debt matters.


Photo by William Iven on Unsplash



What to do When in Debt

It's a little know fact that our credit report can in fact help you with solving your debts. The problem here is that many people shy away from checking theirs due to worries about what they will find AND also the inability to understand the information that's being shared with them. However, over the last decade or so, credit score companies have worked hard on their user experiences, and can now provide you with advice on how to improve your credit score, as well as what's harming it.

Sometimes, it can be something as simple as a late payment on finance you've taken out with finance companies like Littlewoods. Or, companies may not know enough about you to consider you for a loan or mortgage. There's never a better time to look at your credit score and build yourself up from a bad one. Many companies pinpoint precisely what you're doing wrong, and also give you options on how you can resolve these issues. Another bonus: Pretty much all of them offer free trials, so you're able to take a quick glance and improve your credit without having to spend a penny!

The next step you need to take is to get yourself some good old, professional advice on your debt matters. Companies like, the National Debt Advice offer debt solutions for all types of people with all kinds of debt. The process is simple: you tell them who you owe and how much, and they will work out the best way of getting you out of trouble all while keeping in mind how much you can afford to pay back each month too.

What Not to do When it Comes to Debt

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they're in debt is turning to loan sharks and hoping for the best. While services like these may help with a bit of extra cash until payday, they're not built for managing loans. The problem is, they don't tell you this, and people fall into the trap of thinking they're going to be debt free in a matter of weeks. Not only that, you end up paying back a considerable amount more than you owe due to high interest rates. Trust me...it's not worth the hassle!

So, if you're in debt, make sure to take action sooner rather than later. Companies often add charges for late or missed payments so the sooner you're trying to sort things out the better. Don't ignore debt problems. Face them head on with this advice and you'll find your way to a debt free life sooner than you think!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

We Bought A Used Lexus SUV, How It Went

So our 2009 Nissan Rogue SL was in need of several repairs.  The lights on the dash in night view mode weren't turning on.  There was oil leaking from the engine block.  I had placed two plywood squares on the driveway to keep the oil from staining it.  There was a sound coming from the engine, the type you hear when a belt is going to rupture.  I didn't want to pay for any more repairs.  In fact, it had a small dent on the side we'd left as an eye sore because we didn't care enough to pay for the auto body service.  Although the Rogue was paid off (since 2015) and only at 115K miles, it was "pretty junky," according to our salesman at the car dealership we went to in search of a used Lexus RX 350.

Sitting on our driveway

The blue book value on the Rogue in good condition ranged from $2500-$3500.  Was ours in good condition?  No, barely getting by on "fair," if anything.  Surprisingly, we stayed firm during negotiations to get $2,700 trade-in value.  But that's because we did our homework and knew ahead of time how much we could get for it on the street.  

Let me take you back a bit on why we decided to get a used, luxury type vehicle instead of a regular SUV.  See, my wife, Jessica, is working on her realtor license and wants to "look the part" on her appointments with potential clients.  I don't blame her.  Realtors are in a cut-throat business, constantly competing for listings, especially in expensive zip codes here in San Diego County.  But Jessica is a smart consumer, not frugal like me, simply wanting as much quality for the best price.  So, she'd researched Lexus and Audi vehicles online for several weeks.  In particular, she looked for deals on the Audi Q5, and the Lexus IS250 and RX350.

The nice guy on the left, the closer to his right, and us.

I wasn't thrilled about spending current money and future monies on a luxury type vehicle, but Jessica assured me she could find a used one that wouldn't break the budget I set ($25K).  She eventually would indeed find an RX 350 at a small dealership in Garden Grove, a Los Angeles area city, selling for $23,800.  That's the sticker price, I said to her.  I knew there'd be added fees like car registration with DMV, etc.  This particular RX 350 had 49K miles and was a 2015 model.  She swore it was the best deal on an RX 350 she'd seen online.  I trusted her.

The day before Mother's Day, we traveled the 1.5 hours to get to Garden Grove from Oceanside, and met with the salesman who we'd booked an appointment with.  After 15 minutes of negotiations, he had to go get his supervisor.  Of course, right?  This is how car dealerships work.  First the nice guy, then the closer.  The "Closer" was actually a decent guy as well.  He worked with us on giving us a fair trade-in value on our Rogue, and on an extended 100K warranty on the drive train (only costs us $500).  This warranty can be passed on to the next buyer should we sell the car in the immediate future.  So for $500, peace of mind.

Jessica is all smiles

The vehicle had a legit carfax report.  Always insist on a verification report of everything being in great condition when you buy from small dealers in the inner city!  Also, look online for the reviews on that dealership.  There are bound to be plenty of customer reviews.  If not, don't trust that business.  Jessica had investigated all this stuff prior to our visit.  We went over budget, agreeing to $26,500 out the door price.  However, I still think we did alright and that it was a win-win for both the dealership and us.  Our financing was provided by the San Diego Credit Union, Oceanside.  The rate we got: 2.99%!  Our credit scores are fantastic.  It's a 66 month loan, but we expect to pay it off before this to reduce our interest expense.

Any Issues So Far?

Yes.  Four days ago, the car wouldn't start.  It had run great before this.  So we were bummed.  I could tell it was a battery issue because the car wasn't cranking on.  We called Triple-A, a service we pay for that is excellent if you ever get stranded on the road.  They came to our home and tested the battery.  Sure enough, the battery report read a total of 0, cold-cranking-amps, meaning the battery was dead.  A dead battery already?  Yes!  It made perfect sense.  The battery was the original and at 50K miles, it was in dire need of replacement.  We were lucky it didn't die on us while away from home.

We paid for a new battery, $113 and the problem was resolved.  Lesson here: remember that when you buy used, the dealerships aren't going to turnover all the old parts for you.  Belts, hoses, fuses, spark plugs, batteries, etc., could all be in need of replacement.  That's why mechanic shops offer 30K, 60K, and on tune-up services.

It is still better to buy used, even if you want a luxury type vehicle.  Actually, especially if you want a luxury vehicle because many of those depreciate the most as soon as you take them out of the lot.  Good luck out there.  Be smart and do your homework prior to going to buy your next vehicle.  It's the only way you won't get taken for a ride.  Pun totally intended!!!  

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

How to Create Privacy in Your Yard and Woo Buyers

Hello everyone!  Today I have an excellent guest post about an issue that is seldom talked about when considering a home sale.  As homeowners, we worry about staging the inside of the house just right, making it immaculate in its appearance for all would-be buyers.  But what about the backyard?  Aside from landscaping it prior to an Open House, how else can you improve it, and increase your odds of a faster sale?  Read on and find out!

Garden, House, Green, Yard, Grass, Gardening, Plant


Privacy is what transforms your home into a sanctuary, and adds value to your property. If you're thinking about moving, a $20,000 investment in landscaping your yard can add as much as $200,000 to your home's value.

It might be that you want to screen your yard from your neighbor's view, add "curb appeal," or simply drown out noise from a busy nearby street. Beyond just using an electric lawn mower to maintain your property, landscaping gives homeowners a variety of options to create secluded yard spaces that offer privacy and refuge from the outside world while adding to the overall value of the property.

Consider Your Outdoor Space

Upgrading your garden to bring privacy to your home can add 10-15% to its value. Additionally, some trees and shrubs will actually increase in value as they grow.

Often, details such as the proximity of your neighbor's patio to your own are overlooked by home builders and planners. But, as the saying goes, "Good fences make good neighbors." Both fences and plantings can be used to create a secluded yard that offers privacy, a connection with the natural world, and appeals to buyers.

Smaller yards benefit from a well-planned patio or deck. These add significant value and give potential buyers the highest "joy scores" according to HouseLogic's recent consumer survey.

Pergolas over seating areas provide beautiful overhead screening for built-up areas. Water features such as small fountains or self-contained planter waterfalls can also help to mask the sound of neighbors and traffic.

Larger gardens can make use of bigger shrubs and trees, statuary, arbors, fountains, and even fire places. These features should be mixed in with standard wooden fences, lattice work, mixed fencing such as metal topped with lattice, or even stone walls.

There is a wider range of options for larger gardens in terms of fencing and plant selections that allows you to let loose your imagination as long as the end result is organized and professional.

Don't Fence Me In

Don't limit yourself to a standard high wooden fence to create privacy. This can backfire without additional planting and other details, leaving you feeling hemmed in rather than tucked away. This sensation will turn buyers away from your property.

Hedges are a great alternative to standard fences. They allow for airflow while still creating a wind break and screening your yard from view.

Mixed hedges will produce interest year-round if you combine deciduous and evergreen plants. But, take care to choose plants that have similar growth heights and widths to stop it from looking chaotic and turning buyers away. Another advantage to mixed planting is that it provides better protection against pests.

Lattice work and arbors can give your garden added interest, especially when combined with climbing vines or tumbling roses. Lattice fencing still allows light in and air to flow as it creates a softer screen between your yard and the outside world.

Tall wooden fences can be softened and used to extend small spaces by adding clamoring vines, edible climbing plants, and vertical gardens. Besides looking stunning, these plants will release beautiful scents that attract wildlife and interested buyers alike.


Image result for backyard designs

Planting for Privacy and Increasing Home Value

Plants can be used to create a secluded area in a corner of your garden, transforming the space into a delightful nook that will indulge all the senses. Well placed planters filled with tumbling blooms or colorful shrubs can give additional privacy in both small and large yards when incorporated around a seating area.

If using planters, make sure you have adequate drainage and remember to feed and water the plants regularly to keep them in top condition. Unkempt plants will reduce buyer attraction, even if you intend to take them with you when you move.

Boundary walls can be enhanced with planter/water feature combos that will add both attractive colors and scents. However, if you choose to move away from hardscaping elements such as walls and fences, consider over-sized grasses such as Pampas or Yakushima Dwarf grasses. Use them on their own or back these grasses with larger, mid-height to tall trees for additional interest.

Bamboo plants and screens give you yet another option to create more privacy and add value to your property. Screening allows light to flood your garden while distorting outside views. If you'd prefer to plant bamboo as a screen around the perimeter of your yard, golden bamboo is a popular variety that grows quickly.

Well-planned landscaping can increase the value of your home and decrease the amount of time you wait for a sale. Avoid a disorganized, open layout that offers little privacy when you're in the yard.

Mature gardens that are well-tended increase a home's value even more. Luckily, there are also shorter-term landscaping options that can enhance any yard space to create a professional look that increases the value of the offers you'll get for your home!

Anita Franco